Kadongo K'aamu music can loosely be translated as “a one-man band” style of music—playing a guitar and being the singer at the same time. It was popular from the 60s up through recent times—that is, until pop music took over. The songs were usually about societal issues, events, moral topics or even the seasons. Because the songs were delivered as a type of narrative, they were long—from 9 to 12 minutes in length.
O.k., so let me set the scene for you: Literally, the man and his guitar would walk into a bar, social hall, market place, fine tune the strings of the guitar while coughing dust off his throat as the crowds murmured final lapses into silence. Similar to the hip hop of today—your reputation as a performer rested on your rich vocabulary, oratory skills, voice, the message in the song and your ability to master a guitar.
Among the many artists in this genre were the likes of Herman Basudde and Jimmy Katumba—both of who have passed away. But it was one man who took Kadongo K'aamu fame outside of Uganda. In 1994, Prince Job Paulo Kafeero won the Golden Boy of Africa Award in Cairo Egypt. Back at home he won the 2003 and 2004 Pearl of Africa Music (PAM) Awards for best Kadongo Kamu artist/group. Unfortunately for us, he passed away in May 2007 at the age 38.
As the one constant in life is change—even Kadongo K’aamu is not immune to the winds of time. Today, Kadongo K'aamu has moved from being sung in intimate settings to being recorded as studio productions and the artists have multiple instrumental backups. And now with commercial radio stations, short songs are preferred as they bring extra minutes for adverts.
But the fans still reminisce of the days when an artist would walk on stage with a natural voice and whistle out tunes that caught everyone’s attention—touching the heart strings of every listener in the room…and occasionally leaving some in tears.
Follow Hillary Muheebwa, our Kampala-based editor, journalist and documentary producer, on Twitter or visit his site: www.nhillfilms.com